Philemon and Baucis  

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The Winter (1563) by Arcimboldo Suddenly each saw the other putting forth leaves. Their skin started to turn into tree bark. They embraced each other and cried, "Farewell!" Baucis was turned into a linden tree and Philemon into an oak, two different but beautiful trees intertwined with one another.
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The Winter (1563) by Arcimboldo
Suddenly each saw the other putting forth leaves. Their skin started to turn into tree bark. They embraced each other and cried, "Farewell!" Baucis was turned into a linden tree and Philemon into an oak, two different but beautiful trees intertwined with one another.

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In Ovid's moralizing fable (Metamorphoses VIII), which stands on the periphery of Greek mythology and Roman mythology, Baucis and Philemon were an old married couple in the region of Tyana, which Ovid places in Phrygia, and the only ones in their town to welcome disguised gods Zeus and Hermes (in Roman mythology, Jupiter and Mercury respectively), thus embodying the pious exercise of hospitality, the ritualised guest-friendship termed xenia.

Zeus and Hermes came disguised as ordinary peasants and began asking the people of the town for a place to sleep that night. They were rejected by all before they came to Baucis and Philemon's rustic and simple cottage. Though the couple were poor, they showed more piety than their rich neighbors, where were "all the doors bolted and no word of kindness given, so wicked were the people of that land." After serving the two guests food and wine, which Ovid depicts with pleasure in the details, Baucis noticed that although she had refilled her guest's beechwood cups many times, the wine pitcher was still full. Realising that her guests were in fact gods, she and her husband "raised their hands in supplication and implored indulgence for their simple home and fare." Philemon thought of catching and killing the goose that guarded their house and making it into a meal for the guests. But when Philemon went to catch the goose, it ran onto Zeus's lap. Zeus said that they did not need to slay the goose and that they should leave the town. Zeus said that he was going to destroy the town and all the people who had turned him away. He said Baucis and Philemon should climb the mountain with him and not turn back until they reached the top.

After climbing the mountain, Baucis and Philemon looked back on the town and saw that it had been destroyed by a flood. However, Zeus had turned Baucis and Philemon's cottage into an ornate temple. The couple were also granted a wish; they chose to stay together forever and to be guardians of the temple. They also requested that when it came time for one of them to die, the other would die as well. Upon their death, they were changed into an intertwining pair of trees, one oak and one linden, standing in the deserted boggy terrain.

Baucis and Philemon do not appear elsewhere in Greek myth, nor anywhere in cult, but the sacred nature of hospitality was widespread in the ancient world. After Abraham and Sarah had feasted them, two strangers were revealed as "two angels" (Genesis 19:1; the story is in the previous chapter). Hebrews 13:2, which may be aware of Ovid as well as of Genesis, converts hospitality stories into a virtue injunction: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." The possibility that unidentified strangers in need of hospitality were gods in disguise was ingrained in first century culture. Acts 14:11-12 relates the ecstatic reception received less than two generations after Ovid's publication of the tale by Paul of Tarsus and Barnabas: "The crowds shouted 'The gods have come down to us in human form!' Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes".

In later texts

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Philemon and Baucis" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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